Improving the OpenEd Conference – Survey and Interview Highlights and Data

Two months ago I invited people to respond to a survey regarding the Open Education Conference and how it can be improved. 2,237 people received the invitation by email, and more saw the invitation on Twitter and here on the blog. 139 people responded to the survey, meaning the response rate was (at most) 6.2%. 120 of those respondents chose to license their survey responses cc0 and you can grab their responses here to read, analyze, and blog about.

35 people volunteered to have a phone or Skype conversation about OpenEd (with a new one coming in just last week). 24 replied to an email asking them to sign up for a time to talk. I’ve had 22 of those conversations so far and hope to have more of them. (I will not be sharing the detailed notes from these conversations.)

I promised to share with the community what I learned from the surveys and interviews. I’ve studied all the survey responses now, and it is becoming clear that the conversations will be ongoing. Therefore I’ve decided to go ahead and share a synthesis of my notes in order to report back to the community as promised. I share this synthesis in order to reflect back what survey respondents and people I spoke with told me – not as a way of implying that I either agree or disagree with their comments and suggestions.

As you will see below, there is a moderate amount of tension in the responses. Upon reflection, I think we should expect that from a community of this size. In fact, if we all agreed on everything that would be terrible for the growth, health, and sustainability of the movement.

Most Common Topics

The topics mentioned most often were:

  • Cost, cost, cost. The conference is expensive.
  • Virtual participation. Streaming some or all of the conference keynotes and sessions would enable more people to participate.
  • Underrepresentation. There are not nearly enough students, adjuncts, K12 teachers, or people of color at the conference.
  • Travel scholarships. Creating scholarships for students, adjuncts, K-12 teachers, and people of color would likely increase their attendance at the conference.
  • Food. There’s a strong desire for there to be more food included in the cost of registration.

Most Common Suggestions

The suggestions that came up at least twice in the responses and conversations were:

  • Include “Discussions” as a new presentation type
  • Include “Poster Sessions” as a new presentation type. Maybe do these during the reception.
  • Include longer “Workshops” as a new presentation type
  • Include “Flipped Presentation” as a new presentation type, where people will have read beforehand and the session time is spent discussing and arguing.
  • Include “Lightning talks” as a new presentation type. Maybe do these during the reception.
  • Hold “Birds of a Feather” sessions during lunches, including discipline BOFs (e.g., math, English) and job function BOFs (instructional designers, faculty, librarians)
  • Hold more “Intro to” sessions for newbies. Don’t gear the conference exclusively toward those that have been in the field for several years.  Potentially create a conference track focused on first-timers.
  • Create a conference track on “Open in the Disciplines” where people talk about open education the context of their discipline
  • Create a conference track on “What’s Wrong with Open Education” where people can be critical
  • Bring back the conference track on Accessibility and OER
  • Have more concrete sessions on how to find OER and how to put together a course using OER
  • Have more sessions that encourage doing rather than sitting and listening
  • Provide better access to presenter slides and other materials before and after the event
  • Keynote speakers shouldn’t have breakout sessions
  • Move the unconference to Friday afternoon
  • Provide more structure to the unconference
  • Run the conference from Tuesday to Tuesday (because flights are less expensive on Tuesdays)
  • Be thoughtful and proactive in recruiting and encourage people of color to participate in the conference
  • Conduct outreach to local students and adjuncts since they would be in the best position to attend
  • Provide childcare to make it easier for people with children to attend the conference
  • Change rubrics for selecting presentations to prioritize marginalized voices
  • Choose keynote speakers that are people of color or early career folks 
  • Reserve spots on the program for early career people and people of color
  • Do better marketing along the lines of “this conference is for YOU – not just the ‘elites’ of open education”
  • Coordinate smaller groups in different geographic locations to participate in the conference virtually and hold other local events
  • Morning yoga
  • Publish a call for applications to join an organizing committee
  • Involve the organizing committee in decisions about the conference themes, agenda, participation criteria 
  • Have a committee review presentation proposals
  • Post the rubric for how presentations proposals will be scored
  • Create and enforce a limit of no more than two sessions per presenter (including participation on panels)
  • Form a nonprofit organization with an elected board to govern the conference
  • Consider setting aside a special time for schools to give their project updates
  • Connect separate presenters/institutions who submit on similar topics and have them combine efforts and present together
  • Tag sessions by target audience (instructional designers, faculty, etc.)
  • Have people indicate which session they’ll attend BEFORE assigning rooms. Can this be done dynamically?
  • Create a buddy system that pairs up new attendees with returning attendees
  • “Link up” somehow with global conferences like OER18
  • Make the roundtables better for people who are hard of hearing
  • Ask people when they register if they need accommodations (e.g., ASL interpretation)
  • Provide gender-inclusive restrooms
  • Provide more time between sessions. This is valuable “mini-networking” time. The brief time also makes it difficult for people with mobility issues.
  • Have an HBCU host OpenEd

Most Common Tensions

There were a number of tensions in people’s responses to the survey and their comments in our conversations, by which I mean instances in which some people’s feedback were directly opposed to other people’s feedback. These included tensions like:

  • The conference is way too big / I love that the conference is so small
  • Do more of the practical “how we do it” sessions / The field is mature enough that you don’t have to keep accepting “how we do it” sessions
  • The unconference was extremely valuable / Having unconferences leads to lower-quality experiences
  • The conference costs too much / You need to provide more food
  • The conference costs too much / You should charge us more to subsidize student and adjunct attendance
  • Short sessions are great and allow me to hear a wide range of perspectives / The sessions are way too short to be meaningful
  • The smallish rooms were a problem – I often had a hard time getting into sessions I wanted to participate in / Having the Uncommon Women session in a small room was wonderful – in a bigger room it would have been different and worse
  • We need more sponsorships to help bring down the cost of the conference / Conference sponsors made me feel uncomfortable
  • Not many publisher voices – they should be explicitly invited to participate / Why are publishers here? As an instructor I don’t want to be targeted as a potential sale when I come to this conference
  • I’d like to see more social justice proponents speak, even with only minor connections to OER / Why do we invite people with no experience in OER and who have made no direct contribution to Open Education to speak at the conference?
  • Increase focus on social justice and political aspects of open / The most politicized conference I’ve ever attended. Parts of the conference (including keynotes) were openly hostile to anyone right of center. 
  • The choice of the keynote speaker from the Mormon church felt like an attack on me personally / Cancelling the keynote speaker from the Mormon church made me concerned that OpenEd isn’t open to diverse or challenging voices  
  • Keynote speakers were absolutely amazing / I question the value of the keynote speakers
  • Anaheim. Really? / I appreciated the location since it let me combine the conference with a family trip.
  • Destination locations could make the conference more attractive / Don’t hold the conference in touristy places like Anaheim
  • Conference organizers were unapproachable / Conference organizers were super friendly and always available
  • Calling the conference a “family reunion” makes me feel like an outsider / Don’t lose the family reunion aspect of the conference
  • The future of the movement depends on our being far more inclusive / Our efforts to bring everyone to the table – to be inclusive – have led to a watering down of the notion of “open”


2 thoughts on “Improving the OpenEd Conference – Survey and Interview Highlights and Data”

  1. So helpful to see all these laid out, and lots to work with, but whew– that last bullet after the slash feels like a punch right in my solar plexus.

  2. David, I’ve been following this thread and have to thank you for the efforts you are putting in to making this evaluation transparent and inclusive. As the tensions make obvious, it is a difficult and challenging task to balance opposing perspectives & opinions. But the conference will be better for it.

Comments are closed.